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The top 50 universities by reputation 2021

Times Higher Education reveals the top universities with the best reputations, as determined by academics around the world

Student life
October 27 2021
Universities with the best reputations


The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings 2021 rank the universities that academics believe excel in teaching and research. 

A questionnaire was sent to a selection of experienced published scholars, between November 2020 and February 2021, asking them to offer their views on the standards of teaching and research in their disciplines and in institutions with which they are familiar. The responses were then used to determine which universities were considered the most prestigious. The full methodology for the THE World Reputation Rankings 2021 can be found here.

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Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology retain the top two places this year, with their positions unchanged since last year.

The top 10 is dominated by US universities, except for the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge which take third and fifth places respectively. Tsinghua University has moved up three places from last year to number 10 and is the only Asian university in the top 10. 

Although the results are based on academics’ views, students can incorporate the reputation of a university into their decision-making process when choosing where to study.

Scroll down for more student perspectives on studying at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. 

1. Harvard University

Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest higher education institution in the US. It is considered one of the most prestigious universities in the world and has topped the THE World Reputation Rankings since 2011.

The institution has been affiliated with 161 Nobel laureates, 32 heads of state, 50 Pulitzer prizewinners and many other academic accolades and prizes.

The central library is the one of the largest academic libraries in the world, with 18.9 million volumes, while America’s oldest collection of maps and atlases is stored in the Pusey Library. 

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

MIT is based in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, dedicated to the teaching of science and technology. The sheer number of Nobel laureates affiliated with the institution – an impressive 95 – reveals the calibre of MIT graduates.

Scientific discoveries and technological advances to come out of the college include the first chemical synthesis of penicillin, the development of radar, the discovery of quarks and the invention of magnetic core memory, which aided the development of digital computers.

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3. University of Oxford

The University of Oxford is the highest ranked UK university in this year’s reputation ranking. It is also one of the oldest universities in the world and at least 30 world leaders, 28 British prime ministers, 55 Nobel prizewinners and more than 120 Olympic medallists have passed through its halls.

Entry standards are high and prospective students are expected to achieve top grades and pass an interview in order to study at the institution.

Notable alumni include Stephen Hawking, J. R. R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde and Malala Yousafzai. 

The University of Oxford follows a collegiate structure and is split into 44 colleges and halls. Nearly one-quarter of the city of Oxford’s population is made up of students, meaning that it has one of the youngest populations of any city in the UK.

4. Stanford University

Stanford University was founded in 1891 as a co-educational institution, which was unheard of at a time when most universities were all-male.

The research-intensive university has the largest number of Turing Award recipients for a single institution (28) as well as 34 Nobel laureates (19 among the current community of scholars) and four Pulitzer prizewinners. In addition, Stanford University has produced 74 billionaires and 17 astronauts.

Stanford faculty and alumni have also founded many companies including: Google, Hewlett-Packard, Nike, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Yahoo.

5. University of Cambridge

As well as being one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Cambridge can also count itself among the oldest.

The university is split into 31 autonomous colleges. It is particularly known for its excellence in mathematics and a high number of Cambridge-affiliated mathematicians have won a Fields Medal, which is regarded as the Nobel Prize for mathematics.

The institution is home to more than 100 libraries. One of the best known is the Wren Library, which is part of Trinity College and holds A. A. Milne’s manuscript of Winnie the Pooh, an Isaac Newton notebook and early editions of Shakespeare’s works.

The top 50 most prestigious universities

Click each institution to view its World University Ranking 2022 profile

Reputation Rank 2021 Reputation Rank 2020 University Country/region
1 1 Harvard University United States
2 2 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States
3 5 University of Oxford United Kingdom
4 3 Stanford University United States
5 4 University of Cambridge United Kingdom
6 6 University of California, Berkeley United States
7 7 Princeton University United States
8 8 Yale University United States
9 9 University of California, Los Angeles United States
10 13 Tsinghua University China
11 12 The University of Chicago United States
12 14 Columbia University United States
13 10 The University of Tokyo Japan
14 11 California Institute of Technology United States
15 16 Peking University China
16 15 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor United States
17 18 UCL United Kingdom
18 17 ETH Zurich Switzerland
19 =20 University of Pennsylvania United States
20 19 Johns Hopkins University United States
21 =20 University of Toronto Canada
22 25 Cornell University United States
23 22 Imperial College London United Kingdom
24 24 National University of Singapore Singapore
25 27 New York University United States
26 26 London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom
27 23 Kyoto University Japan
=28 28 Duke University United States
=28 29 University of Washington United States
30 31 University of Edinburgh United Kingdom
31 30 University of Texas at Austin United States
=32 36 Carnegie Mellon University United States
=32 =34 Northwestern University United States
34 =34 University of California, San Diego United States
=35 38 University of British Columbia Canada
=35 33 University of Wisconsin -Madison United States
37 32 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign United States
38 37 Lomonosov Moscow State University Russian Federation
=39 47 King’s College London United Kingdom
=39 =42 LMU Munich Germany
=41 =40 McGill University Canada
=41 45 Seoul National University South Korea
43 =42 École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Switzerland
44 =48 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States
45 51-60 Technical University of Munich Germany
46 39 University of Melbourne Australia
47 51-60 University of California, Davis United States
=48 51-60 University of Hong Kong Hong Kong
=48 46 Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris France
=50 51-60 Delft University of Technology Netherlands
=50 51-60 Shanghai Jiao Tong University China
=50 61-70 Zhejiang University China

Explore the results of the World Reputation Rankings 2021 in full

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